King Richard is a compelling drama even if you're not a tennis fan

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·Lifestyle Editor
·4-min read
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Length: 144 minutes
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Cast: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn and Jon Bernthal

In cinemas from 27 January 2022 (Singapore); 17 February 2022 (Malaysia)

4 out of 5 stars

We already know the ending to the story of Serena and Venus Williams – the two sisters are the two greatest female tennis players of their generation.

However, the biographical drama, King Richard, goes back to their origins, back to their childhood and to the story of the man who had a dream for them – their father, Richard Williams.

The movie is a loose retelling of the incredible, unlikely story of how a man brought his daughters from the run-down courts of their home in Compton, California to the highest tiers of tennis stardom, all before the girls were out of their teenage years.

The script takes some artistic license with real-life events, although the Williams sisters themselves were on board with the treatment of their family's story, because they were executive producers of the movie together with its star, Will Smith.

Minor spoilers ahead

Richard Williams (Will Smith) and his family in King Richard. (Still: Warner Bros)
Richard Williams (Will Smith) and his family in King Richard. (Still: Warner Bros)

However, perhaps precisely because of the Williams' involvement in the film's making, the movie does gloss over some of the more unsavoury parts of Richards' life, such as his first marriage and children from before his second marriage to his wife Oracene "Brandy" Williams, as portrayed in the movie by Aunjanue Ellis.

The factual accuracy of the film notwithstanding, it's an inspiring story of a maverick who was an outsider to the world of tennis, but went on to produce two of the greatest stars of the sport.

The movie portrays the determination of Richard in his goal of turning his daughters into tennis champs. It was a seemingly ludicrous goal at that time, given their background.

Tennis was a rich man's sport, dominated by white people, while Richard was going around trying to recruit a tennis coach who would believe in his dream of vaulting two Black girls into the elite ranks of tennis athletes.

One such coach snidely asks Richard, "Have you tried basketball?"

But Richard stuck to his guns, eventually finding a coach by crashing a tennis lesson for pro players.

We see Richard's values and unusual decisions which led him and his family to beat the odds.

In one scene, Richard is upset at the girls for boasting at Venus' win in a juniors tournament. He almost abandons them at a convenience store, three miles away from home, driving away in the van to the chagrin of his wife, just to teach them a lesson about humility.

Here's a sneak peek of the movie featuring the above scene:

We also see how Richard made the highly unusual step of withdrawing Venus from the juniors tournament, then seen as the traditional stepping stone to pro matches, in order to prevent his daughter from burning out.

He also declines a multi-million dollar deal from Nike, the first company that offered Venus an endorsement contract, saying that they wouldn't take the first deal that came their way.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Jon Bernthal (The Punisher, The Walking Dead) had a role in this movie as Ricky Macci, the Williams' sisters coach, who often gets into heated arguments with Richard over his dubious decisions.

Will Smith and Jon Bernthal in King Richard. (Still: Warner Bros)
Will Smith and Jon Bernthal in King Richard. (Still: Warner Bros)

Richard was of course proven right in the end, when the world came to know of Venus' talent after a match at the Bank of the West Classic in Oakland, when she was 14 years old.

Serena would later follow in her sister's steps as a pro athlete.

Playing Richard Williams with a stooped neck and "shorts that are too short", Will Smith transformed himself into a man from a humble background who possesses a quiet and unflinching confidence that he has something great to offer the world.

Smith won Best Actor in a drama film at the recent Golden Globes Awards for this role. There's talk that he might snag the same award at the Oscars too.

I don't even know anything about tennis, but the movie doesn't dwell on the technicalities of the sport, and I found the underdog story very compelling. You don't have to be a big tennis fan to appreciate the human drama of a man outside the system who beats the odds with unshakeable faith and unconventional methods.

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